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1523602

Dr. Hans Lammers

War-dated letter from Adolf Hitlerʼs subordinate

shows the Führerʼs continuing interest and involvement in the Bayreuth Festival

Dr. Hans Heinrich Lammers, 1879–1962.  Minister and Chief of the German Reich Chancellery, 1933–1945.  Typed Letters Signed, Dr. Lammers, one page, 8¼” x 11½”, on stationery of the Reich Minister and Chief of the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, [Germany], March 15, 1940.  In German, with translation.

The composer Richard Wagner was one of Adolf Hitlerʼs favorites.  During the Third Reich, the Nazi Party operated the Bayreuth Festival, the annual festival celebrating the composerʼs work.  This war-dated letter to Hitlerʼs close friend Winifred Wagner, the composerʼs daughter-in-law, reflects Hitlerʼs strong interest in and involvement with the Festival.  

Richard Wagner first mentioned the idea of a festival in a letter in 1850.  The idea percolated in his mind until 1871, when he visited Bayreuth in April to determine its suitability as a venue for a festival.  Wagner found the existing opera house unsuitable, but because of the reception that he received in the town, he decided to stay in Bayreuth and build an opera house of his own.  A Patronsʼ Society sought to raise approximately $3.5 million for the construction.  By December, back in his home town of Leipzig, Wagner announced the Bayreuth Festival, which was planned for 1873.  But financial problems stalled the opera house construction until Bavarian King Ludwig II authorized a loan in January 1874.  Preliminary rehearsals for the festival began in 1875, with full rehearsals beginning the next year. 

On August 13, 1876, the Bayreuth Festival began at the new Bayreuth Festspielhaus with the first complete cycle of Wagnerʼs Der Ring der Nibelungen—local premieres of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre and world premieres of Siegfried and Götterdammerung.  Those in attendance included Kaiser Wilhelm I, King Dom Pedro II of Brazil, Ludwig II, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and composers Anton Bruckner, Edvard Grieg, Pyotr Tchaisovsky, Franz Liszt, and Arthur Foote.

Unfortunately, the Festival lost money, which made a repeat of it impractical.  Wagner entered into an agreement with the city of Munich for a loan, which he repaid with royalties from performances of his works in Munich.  In 1880, Wagner wrote Ludwig II that he intended to make Bayreuth his “permanent foundation” and that he wanted to restrict performances of his Parsifal to Bayreuth.  He completed the full score of Parsifal in January 1882, rehearsals began in February, and the second Bayreuth Festival opened with the inaugural performance of Parsifal on July 26, 1882.

Wagner died in 1883, but the Festival continued under the leadership of his widow Cosima.  When she died in 1906, Wagnerʼs son Siegfried took over the Festival management until he died in 1930, when it devolved on his widow, the English-born Winifred, to whom this letter was written.  

Winifred Wagner (1897–1980) was a strong supporter and close personal friend of Hitler.  Under the Third Reich, the Festival was modernized, abandoning, with Hitlerʼs approval, the deteriorating sets that Richard Wagner had created.  During World War II, the Nazi Party operated the Festival, sponsoring operas for wounded soldiers who had returned from the front.  As this letter to Winifred shows, Hitler took a direct interest in the Festival even during the war.

In March 1940, six months after Germany invaded Poland and commenced World War II, Lammers writes, in full:  “Very esteemed gracious Lady!  /  According to the aim of the Führer, an allocation of 100,000 Reichmarks should be provided annually for the Bayreuth stage festival.  If necessary to bring about the transfer of funds for 1940, I would be pleased if you would inform me whether another engagement of the Bayreuth Festival is planned in this current year.  /  With sincere greetings and Heil Hitler, I am  /  Yours very faithfully . . . .”

Indeed, there were two Festival engagements in 1940 under stage director Heinz Tietjen and conductor Franz von Hoesslin.  The only Festival performance that Hitler personally attended was one of Götterdammerung.

This letter is in fine condition overall.  Lammers has signed his with a 4” long fountain signature.  The letter has one vertical and three horizontal folds, with intersecting folds affecting the signature.  There is minor tearing and paper loss around file holes in the blank left margin and a small pencil notation at the lower right corner, affecting nothing. 

Provenance:  This letter has impeccable provenance.  Winifred Wagner gave this letter, along with a handwritten letter that she had received from Hitler, to an American soldier in the Central Intelligence Corps (CIC) who interviewed her in Bayreuth in 1945 out of appreciation for the kindness that he showed to her.  She also gave him a sheet bearing her deceased husband Siegfriedʼs signature, under which she signed her own name, Winifred Wagner, and wrote “to Mr. Douglas in remembrance of CIC conversations Bayreuth 1945.”  That note accompanies the Hitler letter that we are offering separately here, and a copy of it accompanies this letter. 

We reject Nazism and all that it represented.  We nevertheless offer this item because of its historical significance.  Nazism, although despised, played a large role in the history of the 20th Century, and to ignore it would be to create conditions under which its atrocities could reoccur.

Unframed.

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